From Russia With Love: How has Willian fared in the Premier League?
Last season’s Three Musketeers dressed in blue; Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata, were fantastic for Chelsea. Without specified positions, they floated between the opponents’ defensive lines causing untold havoc as they went. So when José Mourinho added Willian and André Schurrle to their ranks in the summer, questions were raised regarding how they would all fit in. While the Brazilian signed from Shaktar Donetsk took a few weeks to settle in and force his way into the team, his impression ever since has been significant and long-lasting.
Not making his league debut for The Blues until 6th October against Norwich, Mourinho clearly saw the need to hold back the man he had to part with £30 million for. His early performances in the cup competitions showed that he was somewhat lacking a portion of the skills required to do well in the English game; upper body strength and to a degree, desire. José obviously admired his technical prowess and supreme pace, having spent such a sum of money on him, but refinement was necessary to achieve the best results.
The spark that ignited Willian’s career at Stamford Bridge was indeed this league debut, as it also coincided with his first strike for the club. As would become a trend with his following goals, it was a spectacular effort. His arrival to the game was late, only affecting the final ten minutes, but his impact was a significant one. In what had been a surprisingly tough outing for Chelsea, the points were secured following the Brazilian’s introduction to proceedings. As they pressed for the killer goal, the ball dropped to Willian on the right-hand corner of the penalty area and, without taking a touch, lashed the ball across the goalkeeper and into the far corner with his weaker left foot.
Since that moment, his manager has shown an ever increasing amount of faith in him, to the extent that he has become a certain starter for any vital match. He is rarely rested and yet still shows a terrific appetite to work up and down the pitch all game. Whilst he commonly attracts attention for his technical prowess, what sets him apart from many is the stamina and work ethic he displays. This was quite possibly a determining factor in Mourinho’s decision to sell Juan Mata in January; a player who believed could contribute more to the team. He was able to see the effect that Willian’s boundless energy had, whether deployed on the flanks or behind the striker, and so he had the confidence that Chelsea’s player of the year for the last two seasons was surplus to requirements.
The twinkle-toed forward has the ability to shift the ball very quickly between his feet, such that defenders can never be sure of his intentions. As was demonstrated for all to see, his left foot is most definitely a strong option and as a consequence, the runs he makes commonly attract the attention of multiple defenders at once. Having players such as this in your team that cause the opposition to ‘double up’ are so crucial because they create a great deal of space elsewhere on the pitch for others to exploit.
Another valuable ability which he possesses is the large amounts of power he can generate in a shot from very little back-lift. Willian has combined this most effectively when transferring the ball between feet and was seen with greatest prominence in his goal against Stoke in April. Eyes of defenders all around were fixated on his dazzling touches, and before they knew it, the ball was on his right foot with a yard of space, and he whipped the ball into the bottom corner.
It was a quality goal that typified a player with plenty of belief, derived from Mourinho’s confidence in him. Going from strength to strength with each passing appearance, Willian has progressed to become a focal point in a successful Chelsea side. There is not a fantastic success rate for players from Russia taking the Premier League in their stride, but it seems as though he has found the formula. It takes a great deal to be regarded as un-droppable by José Mourinho, but the little Brazilian has certainly managed it.
How well do you believe Willian has adapted to the Premier League? Let us know in the comments below.